My 6 year old's review of the yogurt I made last weekend: "This is very super duper ultra 3,000 yumminess!" This means a lot because he's a huge store bought yogurt fan.
His delight in my homemade yogurt was especially satisfying because a few years ago, I tried to make yogurt and completely failed. But with the price of groceries going up, up, and up, and with my increasing desire to omit GMOs, preservatives, and other unnecessarily chemicals in our food, I recently decided it was time to give yogurt making another try. This time, I asked a friend who makes her own yogurt what her method was. Her advice was golden! (Thank you, Kim!)
Homemade yogurt is less expensive. One batch of homemade yogurt costs me $1.59. To buy the same amount of yogurt in the store is $5.12. This recipe also has NO food dye, no high fructose corn syrup, no hormones, no GMOs, and zero preservatives. In my experience, that's impossible to find at the supermarket. (Heck, some grocery store yogurt doesn't even have live active cultures - the stuff that makes yogurt so good for you!) Plus, I no longer have all those little plastic yogurt cups to throw away...and my homemade yogurt - well, it just tastes better.
As I considered trying to make yogurt again, I was also encouraged by the fact that people have been making the stuff for thousands of years - all the way back to Bible times. And I love the fact that Abraham may have served the Lord yogurt during the visit in which God promised Abraham a son. (I say "may" because not all translations use the word yogurt.) If people back then could make yogurt without thermometers and electricity, surely I can make it with modern conveniences! And you can, too.
As it turns out, I didn't use a thermometer this weekend (because we only have one and my hubby was using it for barbecuing) - and I also forgot about the yogurt and had to remove it from the oven for over an hour because I needed to bake something for dinner. No, I'm not suggesting you follow my example - but it's a good indication of how foolproof this method is.
A Note on Ingredients
For this recipe, you can use any type of cow's milk. (You could probably use goat's milk, too, but I've never tried it.) Whole milk will give you a thicker finished product, but if you use a reduced fat milk, you can thicken it by adding a little powdered milk, or - other yogurt-makers tell me - by draining off some of the liquid whey once the yogurt is finished. You will also find that the yogurt thickens once it's refrigerated. (By the way, commercially made yogurt is thickened with gelatin - which is made from animal bones, skin, and connective tissue - or pectin - which is made from apples or other fruits.)
Yes, you can use pasteurized milk. I don't recommend ultra pasteurized milk (UHT), simply because it's heated to a very high temperature (higher than regular pasteurization), which kills all the good stuff in the milk. Most organic milk falls into this category. But, if you must use UHT milk, you'll want to also use powdered milk, to make the yogurt thicker.
In order to get all the good bugs in your yogurt - bugs that make yogurt yogurt and also aid the human digestive system - you need to add active cultures. You can buy these in little packets, but it's easier and probably cheaper just to buy plain (no flavorings added), grocery store yogurt. Just be sure it has "live active cultures." Not all brands do!
The next time you use this recipe, you can substitute 1/2 cup of homemade yogurt for the store bought stuff. Over time, however, your homemade yogurt will begin loosing it's active cultures - so periodically, use store bought yogurt when you use this recipe.
How to Make Homemade Yogurt in a Crock Pot
You will need:
1/2 gallon (8 cups) of milk
1/2 cup of plain yogurt with active cultures
1/2 cup powdered milk (optional, but makes the yogurt thicker if using lower fat milk)
1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover. Turn the crock pot onto high. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. Most crock pots will take at least 2 hours to heat the milk this much, but the first time you try this, start checking after an hour. Remember that every time you lift the lid on the crock pot, you're releasing heat and it will take longer to heat the milk.
2. Turn the crock pot off and remove the lid. Allow the milk to cool to 115 degrees F. (or until you can stick your finger in the milk and comfortably leave it for 10 seconds. Don't rush; not letting the milk cool enough will kill the active cultures you need to make yogurt.) Stir the milk once in a while, using a zig-zag pattern.
3. Add the plain yogurt. If desired, add the powdered milk, too. Stir in, using a zig-zag pattern.
4. Put the lid back on the crock. Lift the crock out of the outer shell of the crock pot. Wrap the crock in an old bath towel and place it in the oven. (The oven should be cool; don't turn on any heat in the oven. The idea here is to keep the milk away from drafts and let it slowly cool off.) Let the crock sit like this for 8 - 12 hours.
5. The yogurt is finished! Stir it and store it in glass jars in the refrigerator. Makes a little over 2 quarts.
You may eat the yogurt plain, or you can:
* Add a little honey to sweeten it.
* Add some applesauce to it.
* Add a bit of jam or jelly to it, to make it fruity, like store bought yogurt.
My little boy loved this yogurt with a little homemade applesauce or homemade jam; it takes just a teaspoonful to sweeten an average serving.